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(LEAD) Daegu’s police, government authorities clash over annual queer festival

Police officers and local government officials engaged in an unprecedented clash just hours before an annual queer festival in the southeastern city of Daegu on Saturday, but the event ended without major conflict.The tension between the two sides was…

Police officers and local government officials engaged in an unprecedented clash just hours before an annual queer festival in the southeastern city of Daegu on Saturday, but the event ended without major conflict.

The tension between the two sides was palpable as they converged upon the bustling shopping district of Dongseongno early in the morning, with one side attempting to prevent the festival organizers from illegally occupying roads, while the other worked to ensure the safety of the "legitimate" rally.

A massive contingent of approximately 1,500 police officers and 500 officials from the Daegu metropolitan government were at the scene.

The clash began when scores of Daegu officials stopped trucks of the festival organizers from entering the main venue -- a designated "public transportation only" zone -- to set up the festival stage at about 9:30 a.m. The standoff lasted for about 30 minutes.

As the city officials refused to yield, the police resorted to physically removing the officials from the roads to clear a path for the trucks to reach the venue. One city official sat down on the street, claiming to have sustained an injury during the process.

The organizers erupted in chants and cheers expressing their gratitude toward the police when trucks successfully reached the main venue area thanks to their intervention.

Earlier, the Daegu city government and the city's Jungu district office threatened to exercise their administrative powers to prevent festival organizers from illegally occupying the roads to install booths and a stage for the festival.

The Daegu police agency, however, reportedly determined that even if a rally does not obtain a permit for occupying roads, it can be recognized as justified within the scope of the criminal and administrative laws.

Mayor Hong Joon-pyo convened an emergency press conference at the scene about 20 minutes later.

Noting that the organizers "illegally occupied the roads," the mayor said he will hold the chief of the Daegu police agency responsible for the acts.

At around 5 p.m., about 1,000 participants marched around the downtown area with rainbow flags, a symbol of LGBTQ pride, for an hour and wrapped up the event without major clashes.

The Daegu Queer Culture Festival, a festival for the LGBTQ community and its supporters, has been held every year since 2009 in the city's central district.

This year's event comes a few days after the Daegu District Court rejected an injunction request by merchant and church groups in the city to ban the festival.

The plaintiffs said the queer event and its occupation of streets may restrict the merchants' freedom of business, demanding a ban on an event stage within a 100-meter radius of the Dongseongno district and sales of goods.

But the court sided with the festival host, saying the business risks cited by the plaintiffs are ambiguous and that freedom of expression is as important as freedom of business.

Source: Yonhap News Agency